Staff, students and members of the public were unable to access the Wits Education campus due to a protest last night.

A group of 100 students blockaded entrances/exists at the Wits Education campus in Parktown yesterday afternoon preventing staff, students and members of the public accessing or leaving the campus. The students from the Education School Council (ESC) say they started the protest in order to get the Wits vice chancellor, Professor Adam Habib, to attend to their grievances.

ESC bursary officer and student, Nompumelelo Malatji, said funding issues were the main reason for the protest. Malatji said “Students are rejected by Fundza (Lushaka) which is administered at Wits. The process is not transparent, for example, students not told the bases they are rejected on, and the criteria involved in the allocation of funds is not known by students.”

Malaitji added that another contributing factor to the protest were that students on NSFAS had applied for their financial aid but were rejected and not given a response. As a result the ESC members complained that a number of students have not received allowances, continue to go without food and are sleeping in toilets and computer labs. They say they have received no solutions from Wits management even after several meetings.

Vusi Macingwane, Chairperson of the ESC, added that they, (education students), were unhappy about the expenses associated with their practical work outside of campus. “The management announced that we need to do our practicals for six weeks and three days but only receiving an allowance of R 1000 which is not enough to cover travelling expenses, food and clothes as we are expected to look presentable. During the ‘Teaching Experience’ we end up taking four taxis spending close R 100 on a single day,” he said.

The protest which started around 14:30 eventually grew into a group of about 250 by 19:30. The protesters were met by a heavy police presence and campus security which chained turnstiles for a short period preventing foot traffic in and out of the campus. About 250 cars remained in the various parking lots till the protesters were addressed by members of Wits management around 18:45.

Dean of Students, Dr Puleng Lenka-Bula, eventually addressed the protesters during a mass meeting and said “we were not aware of some of the issues raised today. We will escalate the funding/fees issues with Fees Office and the Chief Financial Officer Prakash Desai”. She added that there would be a meeting on Monday, May 8 and promised that these issues would be raised.

Despite the commitments from Wits management, SASCO chairperson, Smanga Nhlengethwa, said the protests would not stop. “Today was just a warm up, tomorrow there will be a complete shutdown,” he told Wits Vuvuzela.